Always Remember to ‘Garden’ Your Travel Reservations

It’s important to “do gardening” on your bookings, especially ones that you make relatively far in advance.

By gardening (a description I think I first got from Nicholas Kralev), I mean tending to the bookings — checking up on them, and doing minor maintenance.

Some common things that happen to reservations between the time of ticketing and travel:

  • Schedule changes: This may cause you to have connecting flights that no longer have enough time to connect, or when American rolls out major schedule changes, I find that upgrade requests tend to drop out of bookings.

  • Aircraft swaps: changes might cause you to downgrade cabins, or to lose seat assignments.

  • Disappearing seats: Seats sometimes disappear for no apparent reason, or perhaps because you’re assigned a bassinet seat and not traveling with an infant or you’re in a premium seat that your status or fare may not entitle you to.

Sometimes changes like these can cause your ticket to need to be reissued, and it’s much better to get than done in advance than when you are trying to check in for your flight. (I’ve even seen the failure of a ticket to get reissued cause flight segments on partner airlines to cancel.)

I find it’s worth checking a booking right after you make it. And if the reservation is for some time in the future, scroll through your reservations at least once a month. Do it again a few days in advance of travel, too.

  1. Checking your reservation right away will make sure that it’s been made for the correct date and for the correct flights. It’s also the time to make sure that you don’t just have a confirmed reservation, but also ticket numbers (you tickets were issued) and that any partner airlines you may be traveling on can see those ticket numbers (they can tell your booking is travel-ready and won’t likely cancel your reservation).

  2. Checking your reservation between the time of booking and time of travel will identify any problems early, when there’s a good chance that other options could be available — whether alternate flights or seats.

  3. And finally checking your reservations prior to the date of travel will suss out problems with a booking while there’s still time to get it fixed and you aren’t running up against the clock of a pending departure.

One of the many things I like about Award Wallet is that in addition to updating your frequent flyer account balances it grabs your itineraries as well — and then continually compares those itineraries to find changes. They’ll email you when an itinerary has changed, whether it’s flight time or class of service, seat assignment or aircraft type. That helps serve as an early warning system especially for those times you forget to proactively tend to your reservations.

If you’re worried about losing your seat assignment, you can set a free Expert Flyer seat alert for the seat you’re assigned to. Although if someone has you moved so they can take it this may not come up, but Award Wallet’s searches should catch it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Couldn’t agree more about “Gardening.” In the summer of 2015, I booked a room in my favorite hotel in Florence, Italy. The day before I flew to Rome, my first stop, I emailed the Florence hotel to confirm, and they said they were looking forward to seeing me in October 2016. Panic stricken, I booked a room in another hotel on the same street, emailed friends in Florence who know the owners of this always sold out, non-chain hotel, and knew I had a room when I got to Rome. Not sure how I made a mistake like this, but it certainly taught me a lesson.

  2. I would be particularly vigilant with partner bookings. While the major US airlines have gotten pretty good with sending emails about major changes occurring with their flights, they’re still bad about notifying you about partner changes. I just had a situation where I booked an award ticket on LAN using AA miles and LAN changed the flight numbers — and rebooked me on the wrong flights (making a 2 hour layover a 7 hour layover). It took me more than a week, and several phone calls to get it fixed. It’s a good thing I noticed it in advance. And this happens all the time.

    I will give credit to BA, though. When I have Avios bookings on AA, I generally get emails when there are flight changes.

  3. This is so true. Being new to the points and miles hobby I was thrilled to book award seats to Maui for my husband and I by transferring AMX points to Avios. I made the award reservation 10 months out for a flight on Alaska. Our original flights were cancelled and they re-booked us on other flights which turned out to be better for us. BA emailed us to notify us of the changes. I contacted Alaskan to make sure the changes were up to date and to make sure we were still good to go. Low and behold when I tried to check-in the day before we left they couldn’t issue our boarding passes. After a few hours on the phone with BA and Alaska and a bunch of confusing statements from both, we finally solved our problem by having a wonderful Alaska agent stay on the phone with me while I was waiting for a BA agent. Finally through the use of 2 phones on speaker the 2 agents conversed and our problem was solved and we were able to print our boarding passes. They Alaska agent was so great she even stayed on the phone with me to make sure I was able to print them.

    Talk about great customer service from Alaska. This was my first time using points to book a flight.

  4. @ Doralynn
    Mind sharing the name of the Florence hotel? Going next summer but never been before so recommendations welcomed!

  5. I called the Portland, Maine, Marriott last summer — the night before arrival — to confirm some detail on my reservation. Good thing I did, as I’d reserved a room at Portland, Oregon, Marriott. Managed to cancel the reservation just before deadline.

  6. Thanks for the reminder! The last time you posted about this, it prompted me to check an award ticket on the Etihad First Apartment, which had gotten dislodged due to a scheduling hiccup with the connecting flight from Delhi (which shouldn’t have affected anything). Luckily, I got on the phone with American immediately and they were able to get it fixed before the reservation got reticketed on the 777 (which it was queued up to do). My friends on the same itinerary a day later didn’t take my advice to get on it right away, their flights got re-ticketed on the 777, and literally months of calls couldn’t get American and/or Etihad to get them back on the A380. My advice: pay extra close attention to Etihad bookings with AA miles.

  7. I just spent a morning doing just that for all of our travel booked through April.

    We have a complicated itinerary coming up next week to Spain – planes, trains, 4 cities, different hotels, positioning flights. I wanted to print the confirmation for each leg to take with me. Thank heaven I did. I didn’t see the Iberia ticket PDFs attached to the emails when they first came. I’m sure I could have figured it out. But having the print out with the bar code will hopefully make our lives simpler.

    Sometimes, the changes are in your favor. I just upgraded my Sapphire Preferred to the Sapphire Reserve (too far past 5/24 to get a sign-up bonus). I had booked a hotel room in Granada with URs. Not only did the price go down since I booked, I get a better redemption rate now with the Reserve. 8,000 URs refunded, thank you very much!

    I regularly check Southwest for fare changes. When I got an email about a fare sale, I checked the current price against what I paid for flights. We have a big family trip on Southwest to Mexico for Christmas. Plus, Hubby and I have several flights booked since we have a companion pass. I got 22, 000 points refunded. That’s the second time I got points back on the flights to Mexico for Christmas. The first time, I got 79,000 back.

  8. And always check on your final bill for things…just had 2 charges reversed from a rental car and a Hyatt because systems did things incorrectly…$30 is not inconsequential!

  9. Hear! Hear! This is the complaint letter that I just submitted to AA (sorry, long):

    Reviewing my upcoming award itinerary (SYX-HKG-SFO for Nov 6 & 7, 2016) on the Dragonair website I noticed that our flight on KA651 booked for 6 Nov 2016 to depart at 2050 was missing. This flight was to be our feeder flight connecting to CX872 HKG-SFO departing at 0100 on 7 Nov.

    In it’s place was a reservation for the 7 Nov flight KA651 departing SYX at 1130 arriving HKG at 1300. This new flight would get us to HGK 12 hours after hour CX flight departed. We would have missed our trans-pacific flight.

    I called AA & spoke with agent Katherine. At first she pushed back against my complaint that the new flight was booked incorrectly, insisting that the new itinerary would give us a 12 hour layover in HKG.

    When questioned Katherine admitted that AA was notified in August that the original KA flight was cancelled. I did not receive any notification from AA regarding the cancellation.

    AA booked the replacement KA flight in error. I did not receive any notification from AA regarding the change in reservation.

    Before calling AA I determined that there were no other One World flights available from SYX-HKG on 6 November. K’s only suggestion was to cancel the KA leg of the itinerary. Forced to pay cash for an HX flight.

    I had to proactively request that the reservation be changed to the available HAK-HKG KA flight on 6 Nov that would get us to HKG at 1755. It did not occur to K to look for an alternate point of departure.

    I requested that Katherine email me a copy of the changed reservation. At this point I have not received any such communication from AA.

    Only because I’m the kind of gal who monitors such details did I stumble across the misbooked KA flight. Had I not, we would’ve shown up at the airport in SYX for a 2050 flight that did not exist..too late to get to HKG by any other means..and we would’ve missed our CX flight to SFO.

    AA failed at managing my reservation and advocating for me as a customer.

    I look forward to your reply.

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